For Your Saturday…Spectacular Hope

Christmas is God’s promise that broken things can be made beautiful again. – via Pete Wilson, Crosspoint.tv

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me…to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor…

You’ll get a brand-new name
    straight from the mouth of God.
You’ll be a stunning crown in the palm of God’s hand,
    a jeweled gold cup held high in the hand of your God.
No more will anyone call you Rejected,
    and your country will no more be called Ruined.
You’ll be called Hephzibah (My Delight),
    and your land Beulah (Married),
Because God delights in you
    and your land will be like a wedding celebration…

Walk out of the gates. Get going!
    Get the road ready for the people.
Build the highway. Get at it!
    Clear the debris,
    hoist high a flag, a signal to all peoples!
Yes! God has broadcast to all the world:
    “Tell daughter Zion, ‘Look! Your Savior comes,
Ready to do what he said he’d do,
    prepared to complete what he promised.’”
Zion will be called new names: Holy People, God-Redeemed,
    Sought-Out, City-Not-Forsaken.

-from Isaiah 61 & 62 (NIV/MSG)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! -2nd Cor. 5:17

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Music Monday (an Advent edition)

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined…The people will rejoice…For the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulder and the rod of their oppressor thou hast broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle turmult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Hero, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over His kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and for evermore. — from Isaiah 9

“The people in darkness sees the great light…The New Testament proclaims to us the person Himself. He is Jesus Christ, the child in the manger, the preacher on the mount, the tormented man on the cross, the risen liberator….He is already present and His power is already among us. We can follow Him, even today making visible something of the peace, liberty and righteousness of the kingdom that He will complete. It is no longer impossible. It is possible for us in fellowship with Him. Let us share in His new creation of the world and – born again to a living hope – live as new men and women.” -from ‘The Disarming Child’ by Jurgen Moltmann

“…but I Know Who You Are.”

“I will hope in Your name, for Your name is good.” (Psalm 52:9)

The words in this song stay with me: “Sometimes I don’t know what You’re doing, but I know who You are.”

When we can’t understand the reasons, we choose to trust His love and His goodness, His wisdom and His grace. We choose to trust Him.

One of my favorite scriptures to remember when I am in need of hope is from Isaiah 40, when Isaiah says that God ‘tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.’

The other day I asked my daughter what she thought of God and she said ‘He is our great holder.’

I think it’s one of the best descriptions of the Father that I’ve ever heard. He is my Great Holder.

I am He, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.~Isaiah 46:4

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I would love it if you would share your hope in who He is…will you kindly consider leaving a comment with your favorite scriptures that speak of who He is? Can you share a little bit about who He has been in your life?

What to Remember When You Feel Forgotten

Milky Way @ Joshua Tree National Park

His eyes were filled with regret as he told her that their time together was over. But what good did his sympathy do for her? His affection was not deep enough to keep her there, to keep their son safe – shame turned her skin hot, each breath seemed too loud and too long. For hadn’t she thought that he had chosen them? Hadn’t she thought their child important?

She’d been wrong. “I never asked for this,” she said to him. “You came to me. Everything I did was to please you.”

She remembered those first months, her Ishmael growing within. Perhaps she had been wrong to so resent this man’s first woman, but never had she expected to bear a child that would not truly belong to her. Never had she felt the loneliness of belonging to a man whose heart was fully enthralled with someone else.

She had fled this place, all those years ago, chosen to leave the unkindness of her mistress. She would’ve kept away, would’ve made a new life for herself — but who would argue with an angel of the Lord? Who would expect this banishment when the Lord had stopped her, had seen her as she ran — when He saw her trouble and promised her descendants too many to count?

She’d thought that meant He would guard Ishmael’s life – even if the promise did come with warning of Ishmael’s wild spirit.  There must be hope for his future.

What would become of them if He had changed His mind?

“I am sorry. You must go.” Abraham looked away from her, toward Sarah’s tent.

Her words had no weight. She had no power to change this. No power to protect her son. She knew he had shown no kindness to Isaac, but was there no mercy? Had all of their chances ran out?

“How will I take care of him?” She threw her pride to the ground, clasped his robe. “Please, let him stay. I will go. Keep him here.”

“The Lord has spoken. He will take care of my son.”

Nothing was fair, nothing was right. The woman who had brought them together, the woman who had willed her Ishmael into existence – she was now forcing them into exile, blaming Ishmael for his place in the camp.

Abraham gave her food and a skin of water, placed it all on her shoulders.

Her son dug his feet into the ground as they took the first steps away. He crossed his arms. “Why are we going? It isn’t fair. It’s because of him, because of Isaac.”

He was leaving his friends, his bed, his father. His home.

“We have to go,” she said. “Please,” she whispered, desperation making her fingers weak as she grasped for his arm. “Please. I can’t stand being here anymore.”

“Where will we go?” he asked. “What will we do?”

And she with no answers, except to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Did the Lord see her now?

It felt like He had closed His eyes.

********************

Keeping track of their days in the desert soon became impossible. She didn’t care how many hours had passed, not anymore. There was too much barren ground, too much heat, too little rest from the anxiety cramping in her stomach. They sweated out any of the water they drank by day and shivered side-by-side at night. She had no idea if they were any closer to finding a place to survive than the early morning when they had left home. She had no idea how to find more food for Ishmael’s growling stomach once their rations ran out.

He had stopped asking questions. He had been walking these last days without complaint. She had stumbled and he helped her back to her feet, gently brushing sand from her hands.

“I need to sit.” With the breaking of their silence, he swayed and she steadied him as best she could. “Water?” he asked, his hoarse voice cracking on the word.

She took the skin out and held it to his lips. A few drops fell out.

The last drops.

“Sit,” she said, guiding him to a patch of prickly bushes. “Stay here.”

There was no more water in the skin and none to be found in this forsaken place. She looked into the cloudless sky and down at her boy. Her strong boy, her almost-man, had tears running down his dusty face. Leaning close, she kissed his dark cheek and turned. I love you. She couldn’t bear to look at him again. He needed water. And she had none to give.

I cannot watch the boy die, she thought. I cannot. It is more than I can take.

No thought to her direction, she moved away from him, far enough that he could not hear her wail, and fell to the ground. The tears she’d tried to hold back all came, now that there was nothing left to lose.

What is the matter, Hagar?

She coughed on the tears suddenly caught in her throat. She knew this voice. She held her breath, afraid to miss a word coming from the heavens.

Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.

Her vision was suddenly clear of the salt-stinging tears and the sun’s glare abated as she stood, hope giving her legs the strength that had been lost. Her eyes opened wide.

There, there not such a distance away – a well! 

She ran, laughter trailing behind her. “Ishmael!” she shouted with renewed energy, renewed hope. “I am coming!”

Her son would live.

The Lord still had His eyes on her.

She would never again have Abraham in her life or a place in his tent, but his God had not forsaken her. He had not pushed aside His promise to her son.

They had not been forgotten.

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Maybe you are in your own desert, unsure of why you’re stuck there and desperate for a way out.

Maybe you feel unimportant and cast aside. Maybe you feel forgotten.

Maybe you are heart-sick because there is pain on every side and no easy solutions are in sight.

Maybe you are asking this question: God, do You even see me?  

I imagine that Hagar felt all of these things. It’s easy to wonder how Sarah could have been cruel enough to send this woman and her child away, but then – in those years while she waited for a child, didn’t Sarah wonder why Hagar had been given what she so desired for herself? She, too, probably felt unimportant. Cast aside. Not worthy enough to have a place.

Sarah and Hagar could not understand what was happening in their lives. Sarah heard God’s promise and thought it would never come to pass, at least not if she was involved. She was too old and so this covenant-child would belong to someone else…Abraham’s future would surely leave her behind.

Hagar knew the Lord had spoken of a future for her son and yet there was nowhere to go, no place for them. She gave up hope and prepared to die.

Yes, these women had more in common than they probably would have admitted. And we have a lot in common with them, too.

Sarah and Hagar felt alone and forgotten.

But they were never actually alone or forgotten, not for one moment.

Neither are you.

Sometimes it feels like we can’t see God…like we can’t quite hear or feel Him.

But that emotion doesn’t change the truth that His eyes are always open to us. His ears always hear the cries of one who seeks Him. He never, ever leaves us alone.

We know that these are the promises God has given in His Word – and yet, sometimes, we let ourselves get caught up in the trouble we see and the pain we feel. We forget to trust in the One who knows us best, the One who is the Author of our faith and our life-story.

He has a plan for us — just like He had a plan for Sarah and Hagar. He has a plan for the people we love, just like He had a plan for Isaac and for Ishmael. Sometimes His long-term vision requires a desert or a circumstance that we just cannot understand. In this life, we cannot explain all of the ways and whys of God…there is no way to capture and unfold every mystery on this side of eternity.

But we know that He will complete the good work He began in us. (Phil. 1:6) We know that He works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)  And we know Who He is – our Provider, our Comforter, our King. When our world and our hearts are shaken, we have to remember this: we serve a God whose Word endures forever. We serve a God “who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand and with the breadth of His hand marked off the heavens…who has held the dust of the earth in a basket and weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance.  Our God will “bring out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing”.  (from Isaiah 40)

Not one of them is missing.

Every single star is named. Every star is in its place.

I can’t help but think of God’s promise to Abraham: Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them. So shall your offspring be.

That’s us, friends. We are spiritual children of Abraham, blessed because of his faith.

And the God who is the intimate caretaker of the stars (when we can’t even begin to see or count each one) knows you by name, too.

Isaiah 40 goes on with a question from The Lord to his people – “why do you complain? Why do you say that your way is hidden from Me? Why do you say that your cause is disregarded by your God?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,

and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”

You are not hidden from God. He hears you. He sees you. He has compassion for you.

You are named, friend, by this God of great power and mighty strength. Not one star is missing, not one is forgotten.  And neither are you.

We may not be able to understand it all – the closed doors, the deserts, the pain-because His grace will always outdo our imaginations. But some day we will see how He kept us, refined us, ordered our steps exactly as they needed to be to bring us to His heart.

Hagar and Ishmael’s story goes on to say this: God was with the boy as he grew up. (Genesis 21:20)  God was faithful to all He had promised.

I think there’s a lot to glean from the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, and Ishmael…but what I want to remember on this day is, simply, the love God has for His people. He is a Father who makes springs in the desert and provides all that we need. He covers our sin with His own righteousness and His grace is our forever-hope.

He hears us.

He sees us.

We can trust our hearts to His loving hands.

“Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, “In the Lord alone are deliverance and strength.”

“He tends His flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart.”  (from Isaiah 40)

 

*fictional re-telling of Hagar and Ishmael’s story is drawn from Genesis 16 & 21

*photograph from andrin0

 

 

For Days that Are Full & Hearts that Are Tired

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As the season begins to change and we find our hands full of “to-do, go-there, be-this, don’t-forget-that”, may we always remember to empty our full hands into His hands.  Let us give it all to the One who loves us so completely that He wants to carry our burdens for us. We don’t have to figure it all out for ourselves.  He will order our steps…He will make our way straight.  He will “bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work”. (2 Cor. 9:8)   Yes, the day can bring whatever it will bring…and if we are keeping company with Christ, He will empower us in every circumstance. I believe that, placed in His care-taking, our lives can be full — but not frantic. We can be pressed and still His peace will preside. We will not be stressed, but sustained. We can look at our hands full of busy and know that, in Him, even burdens can become blessings.

And even if it is one of those days when our emotions tell us that we are barely hanging on — because those days do come —  He is still beneath and behind and before us. We are not just hanging on to Him. He is holding us. We are safely and securely in the palm of His hand.  He never lets us go.  (You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me…your right hand will hold me fast. –from Psalm 139)

 So no matter how we feel and no matter what our rush-around world may bring — may we pro-actively surrender our schedules for a quiet breath, a slow-down space, wait-on-the-Lord moments. We need Him…we need time to surrender our day-to-day lives to the One who is Lord over every emotion, every blessing, every trouble that comes our way, every task on our agenda, everything in our lives. May we open His Word and carry it in our hearts, living out His love and light everywhere we go. May we seek Him in stillness, may we allow Him to be the center of our lives…

…and when we take these feeble steps in obedience toward Him, even as our legs tremble and our feet falter, He is the Father running to meet us. Boundless, He crosses the space between and gives us far more than we could ever begin to give to Him.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. ~ from Isaiah 40

Wearing Wildflowers

This is a day…(maybe you’ve had a day like this before?)…when I wake up feeling sad. No particular reason, no specific thing wrong…in fact, everything is normal. Everything is fine. But my heart is heavy and my eyes quick to fill with tears at the slightest little thing gone wrong. Emotions are at flood-level, apparently, and any rain causes overflow on a day like today.

In the early-morning gloom of the living room, I bend to knees and fumble through words to God. Finally, I admit – I feel at a loss right now. I feel empty.

Why should I be discouraged? I have only blessings in my hands. I have only gratitude to give.

Please help, I pray. Because this day is Yours that You have given. I don’t want to spend it feeling like this.

Words surface. “He has sent Me to bestow…a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” 

And I read  “Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there. If you’re kicked in the gut, He’ll help you catch your breath. Disciples so often get into trouble; still, God is there every time.” 

Every time.

Then a plea in David’s words: “But let me run loose and free, celebrating God’s great work, every bone in my body laughing, singing – ‘God, there’s no one like you! You put the down-and-out on their feet!'” 

I do not feel like there are laughing bones, veins of joy, heart-beats of celebration within me…and I cannot run free with my round-and-round worry-thoughts, my shoulders draped in dark clouds.

But my eyes take notice – David says, “I bless God every chance I get; my lungs expand with His praise.”

Every chance, every breath – he lives thankful. Pursued, tormented, adored, empowered, alone, mocked, envied, prosperous, mourning, rejoicing…in all things, he lives to praise.

Worship, he says, opens door to all His goodness.

Deep breath, mind made up to lift this shadowed mind up to Him in the middle of the sadness, in the middle of the heaviness.

Because even when I feel like I am in the center of despair, He is still God. 

His Word is still solid to the core; everything He makes is sound inside and out.

So I say thank you, to the Lord who sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord enthroned as King forever. For He gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.

I say thank you to the giver of mercy, the light of the world, the One who says – ‘Let it be’ and it is.

Can thank you be enough for the Savior?  For He already carried this kind of day for me, this spirit of despair, for He “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed”. He bore it so that He can lift me up, take this burden from me when it falls into my hands. 

I remember this and the way He loves, how He says “I’ll never forget you. I’ve wiped the slate of all your wrongdoings. There’s nothing left of your sins. Come back to me, come back. I’ve redeemed you.”

I feel Isaiah’s joy as he says, “High heavens, sing! God has done it! Deep earth, shout! And you mountains, sing! A forest choir of oaks and pines and cedars! God has redeemed Jacob. God’s glory is on display in Israel!”

And don’t I have the same praise? God has redeemed me! God’s glory is on display in this very room…in my front yard…in the sky stretching out its cloudy arms of praise…everywhere I look, His grace and beauty are on display.

Lifting my eyes, I know where my help comes from — this God, who made heaven and earth.  His strength begins to hold my heart and it is lighter within me. I choose to open up this day to Him, knowing His goodness unchanged, and He begins to shine His light into the dusty corners. The emptiness begins to fill with peace that I couldn’t find for myself.

He is greater than these feelings that change with the day, with the circumstance, with the tide of emotion. He is sure and steady, constant in all His ways.

When I wake on days like today, I cannot trust in my own frail emotions. I will not put trust in the power of darkness to lead me. Instead, I will say of Him – He is my rock and my fortress, in whom I trust. I will say that the Lord is good and His mercy endures forever…yet (even while this is hard, even while fear fills me, even while night goes on) yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior!

Trusting in His unfailing love, I will not be shaken.

Every promise here, every redeeming hope – it is mine and it is yours. I don’t know if you ever feel despair on your heels, your heart growing heavy – but, if you do, choose praise. Choose trust. Maybe change won’t feel instantaneous, but trust anyway. Because He promised to take the spirit of despair and replace it with a garment of praise. He promised that His joy will be our strength. Sometimes we have to stop clinging to the familiar garments of darkness, letting go and lifting our hands to Him, letting Him take the sorrow and wrapping us instead in His light. Sometimes He lets us walk in the heaviness, knowing how our faith is strengthened when we can understand that He is sovereign in the good and the bad. But the night will not last forever. He always brings morning, in His time, and with it – joy.

Let me say again, this time with David…

I bless God every chance I get! My lungs expand with His praise! 

I live and breathe God; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy: Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out. God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears…when I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see – how good God is. 

For every one of us who trust in Him,  this is how He writes our hearts – hope and a future of running free, heart and bones and breath singing to Him —

You did it: You changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers. I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about You. God, my God, I can’t thank You enough!

Will you lift your heart to Him, no matter the day you’re in? Will you stop what you’re doing and offer Him praise?

How great is our God, sing with me-
how great is our God, and all will see
how great, how great is our God!

 

*Scripture references are from Psalms, Isaiah, and Habakkuk*

Beautiful Hope

“God has sent me on a mission.

I have some great news for you.

God has sent me to restore and release something.

And that something is you.

I am here to give you back your heart and set you free.

I am furious at the Enemy who did this to you, and I will fight against him.

Let me comfort you.

For, dear one, I will bestow beauty upon you

where you have known only devastation.

Joy, in the places of your deep sorrow.

And I will robe your heart in thankful praise

in exchange for your resignation and despair.”

~paraphrase of Isaiah 61:1-3 (from John & Stasi Eldredge)